The Patriots open up their season in Miami to take on the Dolphins. Head coach Bill Belichick has only lost the Week 1 match up three times since he's become the Patriots head coach- 2000, 2001, and 2003. That means that Tom Brady has only lost one opening week game as the starter- the 31-0 fracas against the Buffalo Bills.
Brady's 11-1 record on opening week is the best in league history (and that isn't including the Kansas City game of 2008) and he looks to extend that record above his peers. Here's what the Patriots have to do in order to leave South Beach with a victory.
1) Injured Product: The Patriots have listed defensive linemen Chris Jones and Michael Buchanan as Out for the game. The three other players on the injury report are Brady (calf), tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee), and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (hand). Brady and Gronk are going to play, but the most striking aspect of the injury report is that no one else is listed. Not Jerod Mayo, returning from a torn pectoral muscle. Not Vince Wilfork returning from a torn achilles. Not rookie Dominique Easley returning from a torn ACL. Not Aaron Dobson from a foot injury. How big of a factor all of these players, newly returned from injury, can be will be a major factor for this game.
2) Revis...Island?: The Patriots played a lot of zone against their preseason opponents so it remains to be seen if any player will be subject to Revis Island in the opening week. The secondary should be leaps improved over last season, as Devin McCourty will be entering his second full season at free safety (he was ranked Pro Football Focus's #1 safety last season, in his first at the position). While Brandon Browner is suspended, the other players who fill out the starting secondary will be interesting to watch. Will it be Pat Chung? Duron Harmon? Alfonzo Dennard? Kyle Arrington? Logan Ryan? There are options.
3) Offensive Interior: There's no more Logan Mankins (over/under of how many times the broadcast mentions him is set at 8.5), and that means the Patriots will possibly be starting three new players at left guard, center, and right guard. Belichick hasn't tipped his hand on who will be playing, but as Dan Connolly has been tagged as a captain, a possible line-up of Connolly - Ryan Wendell - Marcus Cannon would put the Patriots best offensive linemen on the field, and in positions where they have experience and where they've succeeded in the past.
4) No Pressure: Chandler Jones is entering his third season and he set the field on fire against the Panthers in the preseason. Was that a fluke, or a sign of things to come? The Patriots have little depth at defensive end so it's likely that Jones and Rob Ninkovich will be on the field for the majority of the game. The Patriots have to hope that Jones has taken the next step forward to help the defense improve over last season.
5) Sophomore Step: We can look at the Patriots offensive receivers as mostly sophomores. Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and Tim Wright are literal sophomores. Danny Amendola is in his second season with the Patriots. Julian Edelman is in his second as a starter. All of these players should take a big step forward from their production in 2013 as they have more experience on the field. Today should be a big signal for how much these players have improved in their sophomore jump.